As the parable of the mustard seed teaches us, God’s work often develops over time. Let’s zoom out for a minute and reflect on the growth of Christianity throughout human history… Because in many ways, God’s ever-growing family shows what mustard seed faith looks like in practice!
Roughly 2,000 years ago, Jesus started off with only a handful of followers. There were twelve named male disciples, several other women who also followed him, and a few others who experienced Jesus’ miracles firsthand and decided to stick around. All in all, Jesus only had a small group with which to start.
Yet in the years that followed, Christianity absolutely exploded. Churches grew and apostles planted new ones. Even in the midst of systematic persecution by the Roman Empire, Christianity grew like wildfire. We’ve seen this rapid rate of growth in recent times, too, with the Chinese church. For many years, outside missionaries were prohibited from traveling to China. It was a common assumption among outsiders that the church in China had shrunk and most likely disappeared. Yet a couple of decades ago, when authorities eased travel restrictions, outside missionaries soon discovered a hidden, but growing church throughout the country. Christians in China were not counted in thousands (as many had assumed)… instead they were counted in the tens of millions. (Last I checked, some estimates are that there are 54+ million Christians there!).
So how could the church go from a tiny group in Jesus’ day to a big, massive, and expanding one? How could Jesus and his followers have created a movement that spans continents and generations? How could the persecuted underground Chinese church grow into millions upon millions?
The main reason for growth has to do with how Jesus did ministry. After rising on Easter and before ascending to heaven, Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). And disciples don’t just stay disciples by themselves. True disciples share God’s word and make other disciples. To use the mustard seed illustration, we continue to plant and watch God work in the lives of other people. Those whose lives are changed repeat the process with others, too.
To illustrate how this works, it is worth considering a math example. Discipleship and evangelism should never be efforts of addition, but rather an exponential process. When you add numbers together, the end result is obviously bigger than before (2+2+2+2=8). But when we multiply a number, and repeat that process, the outcome is even greater (for instance, 2 to the power of 4, or 2x2x2x2=16).
For instance, if the friend you evangelize comes to church, and then he or she does the same thing, too, both of you reach more people. If you minister to someone and they in turn minister to other people, we see Christianity grow exponentially, because the process continues on. Here’s a small diagram of how Paul did ministry:
As Paul, Timothy, Ephaphras, and others continued to evangelize, they reached countless men and women for Christ. It might seem like you’re only just reaching one person, but what if that individual goes on to impact even more people? That’s how movements work.
It is worth reflecting on these questions this week…
- Are you reaching people for Jesus?
- Do the people you show love to develop a desire to share that love with others?
- Are you being a disciple who makes other disciples?
- Are you “dreaming big” of growing God’s family?
I find myself asking these questions of myself often in ministry at Concord. It is so important for us to remember to share God with others. It might seem like a slow process and like we are just reaching one person… but hopefully that one person experiences the joy we have, and shares it with the next person in need!